How to map my body: Legal imagination, Indigenous activism, and using maps as weapons

Edson Krenak

The Waorani people of Ecuador and the Munduruku people of Brazil represent more than two sides of the huge Amazon biome, but two ways to use mapping as a community's strategy for empowerment, territorial defense and self-determination. If in the Waorani case, the mapping celebrates legal victories, the Munduruku people in Brazil are still fighting to guarantee their rights.

Both maps, Munduruku Map of Life and Waorani Map, here were produced in the community itself and kept on site to serve as a document in free, prior and informed consent meetings. The maps were produced using different technologies driven by traditional cartography of ancient and mythological narratives.

In this struggle that is part of a historical activism, these maps reveal a cartography capable of challenging the ontology and geography of the State. The Waorani and Munduruku maps display more than the owners or inhabitants of the land, but physical manifestations of the traditional territory. Human and non-human bodies are, in his mythological cartography, essential parts of the territory itself.

Therefore, these forms of Indigenous cartography mobilize new spatial practices, methodologies, and ontologies. The body-territory is a constituent of the cosmological continuum of their world. Body-painting, map sketching and narratives are interpreted as intricate performances of a counter-cartography aiming at visibility and confrontation.

Mapa da vida (Map of life)

Mapa da vida (Map of Life of the Munduruku People). 2017, Pará, Brazil. Sawre Muybu/2020 Greenpeace 2020.

Map of the Daje Kapap Eypi territory, known as the Sawré Muybu Indigenous Land, is located in the Tapajos River basin in Pará in northern Brazil. Between August 10 and 24, 2017, leaders of the Munduruku people from the Upper and Middle Tapajós regions traveled through the Daje Kapap Eypi territory, known as the Sawré Muybu Indigenous Land, to map and record the important places for the people's lives, especially highlighting the places that are threatened by the construction of hydroelectric dams.

Waorani Map

Waorani Map. 2020, Ecuador. Allianza Ceibo / Digital Democracy, 2020.

North center of the Amazon Region of Ecuador (provinces of Orellana, Pastaza and Napo), between the Curaray River and the Napo River. This map shows part of the ancestral territory of the Waorani in southeastern Ecuador. It was carried out by the communities with the technical support of the Ceibo Alliance to demonstrate all the resources and places of cultural importance within the territory. It is part of an ongoing project to create a map of the entire Waorani territory.

Edson “Krenak” Dorneles de Andrade, is an Indigenous activist, writer, and doctoral student at the University of Vienna, Austria, where he develops studies in legal anthropology. He holds a degree in linguistics and literary theory from the Federal University of São Carlos in Brazil. Edson Krenak works as a speaker and trainer at the Uka Institute in Brazil. As a writer, he won the 10th National Tamoios Award for Indigenous Writers in Brazil with the book O Sonho de Borum, and his short story "Kren and Pockrane, Why there is no Twing among the Krenak People" is part of the 2018 book supported by UNICEF, Nos, Anthology of Indigenous Tales. At Cultural Survival, Edson Krenak coordinates programs in Brazil, supporting various layers of work, including advocacy, capacity building, and the Keepers of the Earth Fund.